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United States v. Kealoha

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

June 26, 2019



          J. Michael Seabright Chief United States District Judge

         The United States seeks to exclude the jury verdict and related documents from the state civil lawsuit involving Gerard Puana and Florence Puana (“the Puanas”) and Katherine Kealoha, Puana v. Kealoha, No. 13-1-0686-03-VLC (Haw. 1st Cir. Ct.). ECF No. 395; see also ECF No. 727. The United States seeks exclusion based on several grounds: (1) relevance; (2) the rule against hearsay; and (3) Federal Rule of Evidence 403. See ECF No. 395 at PageID #3259; ECF No. 727 at PageID #6255.

         For the reasons set forth below, the United States' Motion in Limine, ECF No. 395, is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         The parties do not appear to dispute the following facts: The Puanas filed a state civil complaint on March 7, 2013 against Katherine Kealoha, alleging that she had breached her fiduciary duty and defrauded them of money from a reverse mortgage taken out by Florence Puana and investments made by Gerard Puana. That case was Puana v. Kealoha, No. 13-1-0686-03-VLC. Katherine Kealoha filed a counterclaim against the Puanas on April 29, 2013, alleging that the Puanas made misrepresentations about Florence Puana's reverse mortgage and Gerard Puana's mortgage payments, and that the lawsuit was an abuse of process. On June 19, 2013, Keatherine Kealoha was deposed in Puana v. Kealoha. On June 22, 2013, Katherine Kealoha reported her mailbox stolen. Gerard Puana was charged in this court by complaint with destruction of a letter box on July 1, 2013 and was subsequently indicted for the same charge on July 11, 2013. On December 4, 2014, a criminal trial of Gerard Puana based on this charge commenced, and a mistrial was declared that same day. This charge was dismissed with prejudice on December 16, 2014. The civil jury trial between the Puanas and Katherine Kealoha began in January 2015, culminating with a verdict on February 12, 2015. The jury found in favor of Katherine Kealoha on all claims and counterclaims, awarding her general damages of $200, 000 and punitive damages of $210, 000.

         The United States' theory in the instant case is that Katherine Kealoha, Louis Kealoha, Derek Wayne Hahn, Minh-Hung Nguyen, and Gordon Shiraishi (“Defendants”) conspired together to (among other things): (1) frame Gerard Puana for the theft of Katherine and Louis Kealoha's mailbox and (2) subsequently attempt a coverup of the framing. The Defendants' alleged acts to frame Gerard Puana occurred prior to the verdict in the civil case. Some of the alleged coverup acts occurred after the verdict-e.g., lying to the grand jury.

         B. Procedural Background

         On February 11, 2019, the United States filed its Motion in Limine. ECF No. 395. Defendants Katherine and Louis Kealoha filed their Opposition on February 25, 2019. ECF No. 442. The United States filed its Reply on March 6, 2019. ECF No. 478. At the March 12, 2019 hearing on the Motion in Limine, the court held its ruling in abeyance pending hearing evidence presented at trial. See ECF No. 501; Tr. 3/12/19 at 16:8-9, 18:3-4, ECF No. 513. During trial, further briefing was requested concerning admissibility of documents related to the prior civil verdict. See ECF No. 713. On June 13, 2019, the government and Katherine Kealoha filed supplemental memoranda. ECF Nos. 727, 729.[1]

         II. ANALYSIS

         The United States argues that any information about the prior verdict, including related documents, [2] is inadmissible. See generally ECF Nos. 395, 727. The court will allow the fact that the Puanas lost the civil case and thus owe Katherine Kealoha a significant sum of money to be presented to the jury for the purpose of showing the Puanas' bias against Katherine Kealoha.

         Otherwise, the court finds the prior verdict and related documents to be inadmissible. First, they are inadmissible hearsay to the extent that they are offered to prove the truth of the matters asserted. Second, they do not fall under any hearsay exceptions, including either the Rule 803(14) hearsay exception for records of documents affecting an interest in property or the Rule 803(15) hearsay exception for statements in documents affecting an interest in property. Third, they have no legally operative effect that is relevant to this case, so they cannot be admitted for a non-hearsay purpose. And fourth, even if otherwise admissible, Rule 403 bars admission because any probative value is substantially outweighed by the dangers of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, and undue delay.

         A. The Puanas' Bias

         During trial, the court has allowed Katherine Kealoha to narrowly discuss the prior civil verdict, including the amount owed, for the non-hearsay purpose of showing bias, specifically Gerard and Florence Puana's bias against Katherine Kealoha. The Puanas were both witnesses in the instant trial, and the outcome of the Puana v. Kealoha trial is relevant as to possible biases. In fact, the court instructed the jury as to the limited purpose of this evidence.[3]

         B. Hearsay

         Katherine Kealoha argues that the prior civil verdict and related documents are admissible for the purpose of proving the truth of the matter asserted because they fall under a hearsay exception. See ECF No. 442 at ...

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